My attention was caught by two items today - the first, on the BBC website, where a debate presenting the case for and against preserving Auschwitz, has opened, and the second, the lifting of the excommunication of four bishops who were not properly bishoped in 1988, including one who does not believe in the Holocaust.
This chap is called Bishop Williamson, who believes that 'there is no serious historical evidence' for the murder of several million Jews in the gas chambers. He believes that between 200,000 and 300,000 Jews were killed by Nazis, 'not one of them by gassing in a gas chamber'. He refers to the Holocaust as 'quote unquote, The Holocaust'.
Williamson gave an interview in Germany last November to Swedish TV which demonstrates a wilful and bordering on wicked misinterpretation of data and semantics. He cites the work of Fred Leuchter, a strange being who offered his services to US states for the 'improvement' of their execution systems, but would then threaten to offer his services to the defendant in appeals against the death penalty to testify that the equipment to be used by a particular institution to put someone to death was faulty...unless they used his services. Given that I am virulently anti-death penalty, I certainly don't feel sympathy for the prison governors shaken down by Leuchter, but I am saying that his integrity perhaps isn't that credible, certainly not sufficiently for some Bishop-not-Bishop to cite him as an historically reliable source on gas chambers...
But what got me in the interview (apart from sheer shame that this noodle purporting to peddle the word of the Lord happens to be an Englishman, educated at Winchester and Cambridge) was his statement that his beliefs were based on truth, and that therefore they must be good, because all truth was good. He did not see the trap he had fallen into - his words were not true, could not be true, because there is abundant thoroughly documented and verified evidence for the existence of gas chambers operated by the Nazis. So his words were not truth, and therefore, based on his own syllogism, must be wicked, or evil, or bad, or whatever you want to call it. On the other hand, why are any of us paying any attention to this crazy nutter, given that he believes that the terrorist attacks on 9/11 were staged by the US government?
I suppose it is because, in my case, I cannot understand remotely how anyone can deny the Holocaust - especially someone born during the war, who grew up through the 1950s and 60s with the revelations and trials and memoirs coming thick and fast, not to mention the dense body of documentation - plans, aerial photographs, orders and reports that survived the Nazis' attempts to conceal their crimes. In Williamson's case, I wonder how a man of considerable education (though clearly limited erudition beyond his narrow vision of the Catholic church) can so calmly and foolishly deny what is so easily verifiable. Perhaps the clue lies in that phrase, narrow vision - a vision which is so confined by his theology that he has lost all sight of humanity, of genuine intellectual curiosity and of any humility.
What frightens me most about Williamson is not the bizarre lunacy and repellence of his many views, but the fact that this man has been rector of numerous seminaries for the training of young priests and is currently busy in Argentina continuing his work of warping the world-views of those he's allegedly educating. What Benedict thinks he is doing by rescinding the order of excommunication is unclear - possibly mending schism in the ranks of the Catholic church. But mending a schism between the mainstream and a bunch of about 5,000 extremists which is likely now to sour Catholic-Jewish relations seems like a truly bizarre move. So Benedict clearly woke up one morning thinking, 'Hmm, shall I invite the Lefevrists back into the fold, thus irritating and angering swathes of people in all faiths who'd never heard of this bunch of RC extremists or shall I leave well enough alone?' Ah, well, Popes have made bad calls before and no doubt will again. In the meantime, I suppose we should be thankful that Williamson is safely tucked away in Argentina.